By Jeff Zimba
December was a good time to be in the Phoenix area for class three enthusiasts. Small Arms Review teamed up with the Western US promoter Crossroads of the West to hold the largest class three gun show in Arizona history. Any of you who have ever attended the December show at the Arizona State Fairgrounds know what a big show this is. Now add an entirely new building to it with 170 tables and ten booths filled exclusively with machine guns and related items to it. Dealers from every corner of the USA were set up much to the delight of the record-breaking crowd. Huge smiles seemed to be the official uniform of the weekend.
Things started out with a little disappointment when we flew in on Tuesday and heard that the Dry-Creek shoot had been canceled by the BLM. (The BLM is the pesky government agency that controls everything that goes on in the Arizona desert. Oops! we didn’t mean to say “Pesky”) We had a brand new M240B to ring out and 5000 rounds of linked 7.62 NATO with no place to go. As it turned out, there were a few informal shoots scattered around the area and most everyone who went to shoot had the opportunity to get their fix.
Stan Andrewski, Dan and Kyle Shea and I hooked up with a local crew and got directions to one of these informal events. We met up with Randy Meyers and some members of the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association somewhere out in the desert, over an hour West of Phoenix. I have no idea where we were, but I know I liked it. As we drove up a long dusty road, we stopped to listen and see if we were getting close. Within seconds of stepping out of the vehicle, we spotted many large puffs of dust a few miles away and could hear the faint rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire. We followed our ears and eyes (hoping we were approaching from the up-range side of the line) and were soon there.
Upon pulling up to the line, we were immediately met by plenty of smiles and handshakes and introduced to some local hospitality. The first thing that caught my eye was a mortar of some sort with a bore almost a foot across. As I drooled all over it, the owner asked me if I would like to shoot it. I don’t think I even started to say “sure” when he primed it with black powder and loaded a bowling ball in the business end. He handed me a 15 foot cord, and asked that I give the command “fire in the hole” and let it rip when ready. I looked up and down the line to make sure there was no one I would startle, gave the command and pulled the cord. The massive barrel let an enormous roar and thumped the earth. The muzzle bellowed smoke and fire. The bowling ball went higher and higher until it was just a pinpoint in the sky, and started it’s way back to earth. It’s new home would be well over a half mile away impacting the side of a mountain. It kind of brings a little tear to my eye bringing back such a fond memory.
Stan and Kyle were seen firing a 37mm Bofors Cannon with a 20mm Vulcan sub-caliber unit, and Dan could be found behind the 240B or instructing others in its use as they lined up to give it a try. All in all, it was a good time and certainly different from the shooting we do in the Northeast due to the type of landscape we have here.
Dealers started showing up at the fairgrounds on Friday afternoon, and what started out as an empty building soon became alive with gun dealers from all over the USA. It resembled a family reunion of sorts as the group started looking familiar to any visitor of the Knob Creek Shoot or the Soldier of Fortune Convention. Dealers in attendance included Ohio Ordnance, Kent & Kathy Lomont, Dillon Precision, StG Supply, One Eyed Jacks, Armalite, Gemtech, J&T Distributing, American Spirit, and many, many more.
The crowd was steady Saturday. For a matter of fact, we set a new attendance record at that show, beating the standing record by having over 7,500 people through the gate on Saturday alone. Those are pretty impressive numbers for any show and certainly impressive for a first. One thing that we did note, was the the other three buildings and the tent area were standing room only for most of Saturday, just like our building, and the regular dealers there seemed pretty happy. The vast majority of the SAR building dealers were wearing the same smiles I was seeing at the range the day before. The show wrapped up at 5:00pm and it was off to the SAR-BQ.
We had the SAR BBQ in a building adjoining the show. Actually, the entrance was about 30 yards from the SAR building. It was also a complete sellout and a great time was had by all. It was basically a room of class three enthusiasts who see each other many times each year, but seldom have time to simply visit and relax. When you do the Creek, SOF or any other major shows, if you are behind your tables you are usually doing business and have very little time to socialize. When the shows end, it is time to head home or to another show, so socializing is one of the last things on your schedule then as well. This provided a nice place to sit and chat, and maybe do a little business as well, without being on the clock. The food was also top notch.
Sunday was just as successful as Saturday, and everything went off great. We learned many things that would make a bigger and better show if we were to do it again, and after having a staff meeting on the following Monday, it seems as though this just may be an annual event. Oh yeah….. I almost forgot to mention that 75-80 degree weather in December isn’t a bad bonus either. -Jeff
Well, it is official that we are going to have another SAR show in 2001, at the Arizona State Fairgrounds! We have to finalize the date, but we are working on that. Dry Creek, Inc, is working on making their shoot date “bulletproof” so they won’t have the same problem. We are thinking of expanding the Barbecue into something a little more formal… put rolls of paper towels on the tables this time, for instance. Well, actually, we are going to have some awards… writers, contributions to Small Arms knowledge and design, etc. and we will do them at the barbecue. Hopefully we will be a little less stressed out, and have more time to “Mingle” and generally talk. We also are talking about opening up the main area for reenactors and active duty military units to show off and recruit. Maybe we can get some bands in there and some more concessions too. I think we are going to make this SAR show an annual event, and it should be a GOOD TIME every year. – Dan